Unite the Opposition, External faction of the International Socialist Network
The Unite the Opposition faction extends warm greetings to this weekend’s conference of the International Socialist Network. We commend the principled work done by ISN members in tackling sectarianism, sexism, and sloppy thinking in the revolutionary left in Britain. Some of us have spent decades never being convinced by the SWP leadership’s understanding of democratic centralism or feminism. The SWP leadership never seemed able to answer its critics on these questions. Despite the appalling trigger to much of these new debates, it is heartening to see a rethinking of these questions by so many comrades from the SWP.
We also welcome the willingness of the ISN to seriously consider moving towards some kind of “revolutionary regroupment” with some of the more thoughtful parts of the British Left. When we left the SWP the last thing we wanted was to be part of purer but even smaller group, or add to the ridiculous number of groups on the left. Clearly there is both the need and the possibility of bringing together a number of revolutionaries from differing traditions.
But why the urgency?
As much as our side could really do with a bigger revolutionary organisation right now, surely we need to take things slowly in order to win the maximum number possible, with the clearest strategy, tactics, principles and “programme”.
While up to 500 people have left the SWP during its crisis, how many of them are in the ISN? A minority I suspect.
Many of us are waiting to see what happens – too exhausted after the split to throw themselves into building a new organisation.
Many of us are concerned that the ISN seems understandably keen to rush into revolutionary unity with new forces without taking into account the effect this will have on the potential to win over far more people from the SWP.
Some of us feel disconnected from the changes in the political direction of the ISN simply because we don’t have time to read the mass of emails and documents that must form part of a democratic discussion.
And many of us simply find it hard to trust “leaders” we don’t know after our experiences in the SWP.
Our Priority is the SWP
As much as we can understand the positive outcomes a merger with the Socialist resistance (103 mainly older members with good roots, experience and especially international links) and the Anti Capitalist Initiative (a few score members but young and fresh-thinking), surely our priority should be the hundreds of people who left the SWP but haven’t joined anything else, and the many hundreds of people who are still in the SWP. This last group should be our biggest and most important audience, who we should be aiming to unite with as the main priority.
In 1926, Victor Serge, wrote about the waryness of his small group of Trotsky supporters when Trotsky concluded an alliance with Zinoviev and Kamanev to form the “United Opposition”
“We were taken aback by the news that Trotsky had concluded an agreement with the Leningrad Opposition. How could we sit at the same table with the bureaucrats who had hunted and slandered us … We hesitated to hand over the list of our leading members to them. What would they be up to tomorrow?”
The difficult feelings many in the ISN have towards SWP members who while part of the opposition now, were attacking them only 6 months ago are understandable. They might not have suffered in quite the way thatVictor Serge and Trotsky did in the early 1920s, but being lied to, being lied about, and feelings of betrayel are difficult to forget. Rebuilding trust is not easy. And while we think that the language of Seymour and others is not helpful, we certainly share the same feeling.
Having said that, the simple fact is the membership of the SWP, both in the official opposition faction but also scattered throughout the organisation, contains the largest group of revolutionary socialists in Britain, with a wealth of experience and understanding. Only a minority are blindly following the CC as they probably always have. The rest remain in the SWP for a range of reasons, but often it can boil down to “what else is there? How else could I be organised?”
Some of these SWP members have only begun to see the reality of the CC’s deception during the last few months. They should not be blamed for that. Others may agree with much of what the ISN say, while being uncertain about the dropping of some parts of the IS tradition. But they are not prepared to swap a flawed organisation with a weekly paper, union caucuses and branches in every city for an on line discussion group and a ridiculously named magazine.
It Won’t Be Over By Christmas!
We all know that, however many people the SWP’s CC-Faction win at the conference, it will not all be over by Christmas. We will be left with many hundreds of members who will be unhappy with the decisions and be considering leaving.Some may even leave en-masse . Many more may stay longer and at first try to console themselves with every new member,friendly picket line or decent paper sale. But in the long run the damage done to their party will lead to them drifting out of activity.
What The Fuck Is To Be Done?
We need a strategy that aims to win all these people to a much bigger organisation of revolutionaries than is currently being hoped for. Tony Cliff was right to obsess about numbers. It doesn’t mean compromising on oppression or democracy. However exciting for the ISN to merge with others, there is a real danger that such a quick regroupment will make it harder for us to work with and join with those hundreds revolutionaries currently in the SWP. This group, and individual members of the Socialist Party, are far too important to write off. By remaining a loose group, by continuing to work with other revolutionaries and in Left Unity, by continuing to be a place for new thinking without a new “line”, we believe that it will be easier to either persuade the next SWP-exodus to take us seriously. In the long run we believe that such an approach can help to ensure that the revolutionary left can become a central part of a new left that this country so desperately needs.